Black Boys Don’t Get a Childhood. #QueenSugar Episode 4 Recap.
In 1955, 14 year-old Emmit Till was killed by a group of men, one of whom later testified that “he looked like a man”. November 2014, 13 year-old Tamir Rice was killed by a police officer who shot him within seconds of arriving at the playground. His colleagues later described the officer as “distraught after the shooting when police learned that Tamir was much younger than first thought”. Just last month, a 10 year-old black boy was chased by the police, mistaken for a 20 year-old suspect they had been looking for. And even when black boys get arrested, the trend continues in the justice system. A disproportionate number of black teenagers get tried as adults, and of all juveniles who were given a sentence of life without parole in Florida, 89 percent of them were black teenagers.
Black boys don’t get a childhood.
This episode of Queen Sugar tackled this problem within multiple contexts. The toxic masculinity of Ralph, the prison industrial complex with “too sweet”, and the naiveté of Micah.
On episode 2, in the aftermath of the father’s death, Aunt Vi got in an argument with Ralph who didn’t want his son Blue to attend the funeral. Ralph wants as much as possible, to preserve the innocence of his child and let him be a child as long as possible. He tells Violet, “ I don’t want him seeing no coffin, no death, no grave. He’ll have enough of that come”. But Violet reminds him to not coddle the boy too much the same way that Ernest his father coddled him and put him on a pedestal. She warns him that it will do Blue no good, for he will struggle like he did, “wrestling in a world that ain’t get no pedestal for you”? This is a tug of war that is apparent with Ralph Angel, as he wrestles between keeping Blue in a bubble of innocence, but also letting go of the toxic masculinity of black men which requires them to harden up quick and depend on no one.
In the first scene of this episode (4), Ralph is on his way out of the bank where he signed papers related to the farm, and prepares to head out and purchase the sugar cane seed for planting. He meets Remy, a fellow farmer and friend of his father and tells him with pride that the care of the farm is on him. When Remy notes that the farm needs to be registered with the government, Ralph is clearly surprised but pretends he’s got things handled. This tendency to not ask for help when he obviously needs it, is the reason why Ralph A. eventually ends up purchasing seed cane that is infected with fungus, seed on which he spent 15 thousand dollars.
It’s important to note however, that when we discuss toxic masculinity we have to discuss the ways in which both men and women make it difficult to unlearn the habits, because Ralph did at one point call his sister Nova for help, but she was too busy running her case on youth incarceration and told him to handle things himself. And Ralph pointed out to her that while he was in prison, she barely gave him as much attention and she is giving to those other boys. Further illustrating how Ralph was often left to carry emotional burdens alone, straddling this fence of being coddled by his father, but also left to himself when perhaps he needed the most support.
Though Nova eventually recognizes that she wasn’t there enough for her brother, it’s clear that he was the catalyst of her fight against the racist injustice of youth incarceration. In this episode we get to really see how relentless she is; interviewing a young boy who tells his prison stories of being put in solitary and starved or beaten by inmates while guards look the other way. He eventually took any plea deal he was given just for to escape the violence or at least take solace in the thought that his sentence would be shorter.
But perhaps the scene that touched me most is when Nova gets called to the hospital where “too sweet” was taken, after being horribly beaten up. It’s difficult to see a little boy like that, an innocent minor who was put in a adult prison while still await trial. She can’t hold back tears as she sees his bruised and swollen face, then she begins to pray. “In you I have taken refuge. Let me not be put to shame. Keep me free from the traps they set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands, I commit my spirit. Deliver me oh faithful God”. This scene fascinates me, for I am so interested in the role of spirituality as a tool of resistance, survival and self-care through racism. And it’s quite clear that it’s an integral part of Nova’s activism, for she is a self-proclaimed daughter “of a Voodoo princess from the Bayou. She is relentless because she’s got the power of God and her ancestors fueling her.
This heavy reliance on spirituality which we see in Nova, is (maybe for now)almost non-existant in Charley, who is a woman who deals only with facts and excels at putting her emotions aside to forge through difficult time. I truly admire her ability to compartmentalize enough to be an exceptional manager for her husband then also be — rightfully — angry at his infidelity. Charley is a no nonsense woman who tells it like it is, even with her son. She makes it clear to him that social class, money and education don’t shield black folks from racism. “Don’t let the way we live fool you” she tells Micah, “society is quick to demonize black men”. She was referring to the issues with her husband, but this was a foreshadowing of what her son would endure as well.
Micah has a girlfriend who is white, and following the scandal with this father, his girlfriend’s mother is not thrilled about them still seeing each other. She does everything she can to reduce the time they spend with each other, by picking up her daughter from school a lot earlier than usual, and interrupting the time they spend together it the girl’s room. She doesn’t try to hide that she doesn’t support the relationship. Eventually Micah is facing expellment because the mother found a picture of a penis in her daughter’s phone, which she assumed was from Micah. She reminds Charley that her daughter is only 15 years old, to which Charley responds, “so is Micah”. That sentence hit me hard as it was a reminder of Emmet Till all over again, a boy who was seen as a man, a man who was going to soil the innocence of a white girl. Though Micah might only get expelled from his school, it made me think of all other black boys denied their childhood; seen as adults, as scary, as towering, as threatening. They are never just boys.
Ralph is trying to preserve Blue’s innocence while trying to reclaim his as a former criminal. Nova is fighting for “too sweet” who is caught in the systemic racism of the prison industrial complex, and Micah is getting perhaps his first done of black boys being guilty before being proven innocent.
Black boys Don’t get a Childhood.
It’s both a warning from kin folk, and a rude awakening through racism.